Posted on 2 Comments

Orchestral Violin Practice Challenge: My goals for the next two years

One of the things I absolutely love about playing the violin is playing orchestral music. I love the variety of repertoire that it brings – from Bach Cantatas to Tchaikovsky Symphonies, Bizet’s suites, and modern, cutting edge compositions. Orchestral playing, and the violin practice that goes with it, is constantly interesting and challenging.

Rehearsing with the Bendigo Symphony Orchestra

When I was going through my Bachelor of Music, I loved orchestral playing. I even did a research project on what was required to win an orchestral violin position in an Australian orchestra. But my playing was never at the stage where I could consider applying for an audition, let alone winning that audition.

I went away from music for a few years, but now I’m back – currently studying to be a High School music teacher. I’ve got two years of study to go, so I’m setting myself a goal.

In two years, I want my playing to be at a stage where I could feel confident in applying for an audition. I’m not going to say that I’m going to win that audition – but to borrow a line from a hit musical, “I want to be in the room where it happens.”

What’s required?

So to start with, let’s look at what’s required for an Orchestral Violin audition.

First, you generally need to have two violin concertos prepared. These are broken up into two categories. The first is a Mozart Concerto – by which they will either specify, or at least expect either the Fourth concerto in D Major, or the Fifth concerto in A Major. The second category is either a Romantic or Twentieth Century concerto. These have a bit more flexibility in them, and do allow for a bit more choice, but most audition panels would be expecting to hear the Tchaikovsky or Sibelius Violin Concertos.

Then you are required to play some orchestral excerpts, which allows them to see how you might fit in to the individual stylistic playing of the orchestra. Over the many years of orchestral auditions, there have been a number of excerpts that have proven themselves to be required more often than others. As a result, even though you may not get a list of required excerpts until the audition is announced, or even closer to the audition date, you can still prepare these excerpts knowing that it is likely they will be included.

Reviewing where I’m at now

When I consider my own playing and my own repertoire that I know at the moment, there are a few things that are missing. I’ve learnt the fourth concerto by Mozart, and I refreshed it in 2020. However, I’ve not really learnt any of the major romantic concerti. And while my head knowledge remains relatively fresh, a lot of my technique has slipped. And if I’m to seriously tackle the Tchaikovsky concerto, then I need to address the weakest part of my playing – my double stops.

Difficulties ahead

A Bendigo Symphony Orchestra chamber music rehearsal

When taking on any challenge, it’s important to note the things that can get in the way, or make it more difficult. Firstly, I’m heading into full time study this year, which is no easy feat on its own, but my studies will see me be required to complete three month-long practicums – two this year, one next year. That will take up a lot of my time, and mean that finding time for my violin practice will be difficult. Secondly, I have three kids, one who is diagnosed ASD, and one who is undergoing diagnosis. As such, there are a lot of appointments and therapy sessions to attend to. And while this is an important challenge to me, my family will always come first.

As such, I’ve come up with a plan for my violin practice that I feel is achievable despite these time constraints, however, it will still enough of a challenge that it will stretch me. I’ve divided it up into semesters, but in other words it means the first half of the year, and the second half of the year.

The Goal

Semester 1Semester 2
2021Polish Mozart 4
Learn Mendelssohn
Technique focus on Double Stops
Excerpts: Bach St Matthew Passion; Beethoven Symphony 2, 3 and 9; Mozart Symphony 35 and 39
Polish Mendelssohn
Learn Mozart 5
Technique focus on tone production
Excerpts: Brahms Symphony 1 and 4, and Variations on a Theme by Haydn; Elgar Enigma Variations; Prokofiev Symphony 1; Shostakovich Symphony 1
All 2021Kreutzer and Fiorillo Etudes
2022Polish Mozart 5
Learn Tchaikovsky
Technique focus on intonation
Excerpts: Prokofiev Symphony 5; Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade Solos; Strauss Don Juan; Tchaikovsky Symphony 4 and 5; Bartok Concerto for Orchestra
Polish Tchaikovsky
Technique focus on bowing
Excerpts: Mahler 3 and 5; Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet Orchestral Suites; Strauss Ein Heldenleben (Solos) and Der Burger als Edelmann (Solos); Tchaikovsky Swan Lake (Solos)
All 2022Rode and Dont etudes

In terms of the amount of violin practice I am able to do, I am aiming to do two hours of practice a day. While that might be a bit of a stretch some days, so it might only be one hour, but that is the aim.

Do it once and do it right!

One of the things that I am really trying to focus in on is learning the right way. So I will also be really looking at my practice techniques, utilising resources such as Practiceopedia by Philip Johnston (no longer in print), Youtube, and others, to improve my practicing and make it as effective and efficient as possible. In time, I’ll be sharing these in my weekly videos as I share what I’ve been working on, how I’ve been working on it, and how well it has worked.

I’m excited to see what this program will be able to do for my playing. Similarly, I am looking forward to what it will do for my teaching. In conclusion, I hope you’ll be able to join me for this journey by subscribing to my YouTube channel. But for now – I need to go and practice.

Posted on Leave a comment

#AMerryViolinChristmas – Away in a Manger

Time for our third video in the #AMerryViolinChristmas compilation – a collection of Christmas Carols arranged for beginner violin and Piano. If you haven’t yet, make sure you grab your copy today! Today, we’re learning “Away in a Manger”, so watch the video above and have a go. In addition, discover some more about the history of this great carol below.

About Away in A Manger

Having first been published in the late nineteenth century, Away in a Manger has gone on to become one of the most popular Christmas carols in the English speaking world. It is thought to be American in origin, despite having originally been attributed to Martin Luther.

While there are many versions of the lyrics, with variants on almost every line, a version by William Kirkpatrick published in 1895 has now developed into being the standard version that is most well known.

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus! look down from the sky,
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And take us to heaven to live with thee there.

Taken from “Around the World with Christmas: A Christmas Exercise”, by E.E. Hewitt, John R. Sweeney, and William J. Kirkpatrick (1895)

Two wonderful melodies

Finally, There are two well-known versions of this melody. Firstly, James R Murray’s version known as “Mueller” is most popular in America. And secondly, William J. Kirkpatrick’s version known as “Cradle Song” which is most popular in Britain. In this video, I am looking at Kirkpatrick’s “Cradle Song”

Have a Merry Violin Christmas

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Violin Christmas collection, and that you’ve spread some joy using these arrangements. Finally, if you haven’t seen them yet, check out the other videos in the #AMerryViolinChristmas collection – this was the third one I produced this year, along with Joy to the World and Silent Night.

Posted on Leave a comment

#AMerryViolinChristmas – Joy to the World

It’s Christmas time! Time for Christmas Carols!
The problem is that many Christmas Carols are written in keys that aren’t friendly for the violin, especially for the beginner violinist, who initially learns notes in G, D and A major, whilst carols are often written in F, Eb and Bb major.

So I’ve arranged ten favourite carols for beginner violin, and made it available for free on my website – and I’m going to teach you how to play them. Today, we’re learning “Joy to the World”.

If you’re learning these, I encourage you to share your progress – tag your video with #AMerryViolinChristmas and I’ll watch and comment some encouragement for you.

Posted on Leave a comment

Driving across the Nullabor

In March, my family moved from a little country Victorian town called Rochester , and headed home to Perth. As part of the move, I drove the 3,333km with my Dad and I decided to film it on my GoPro on Hyperlapse (30x). And then when I started editing, I decided to write some music to go with it.

First is a bit of dabbling at creating some atmospheric music. I’ve titled it Head of the Bite.
Next is a solo piano work I composed titled Nullabor. 0:22:30
Finally, I found an old song from the 1920s called At the End of the Road, by James F. Hanley and Ballard Macdonald. I recorded it, changed it from being about Indiana to being about West Australia, and there we go. 0:36:00
I still had a bit of time, so the video finishes with a bit more of Head of the Bite.

Posted on Leave a comment

Westworld scoring competition

So while I was browsing for some new sounds to play around with, I noticed that Spitfire Audio was holding a competition – score a scene from the new season of Westworld, and potentially win the complete collection of Spitfire Audio sounds.

This is my first attempt at scoring to film, and it was fun to explore this area. I utilised a rhythmic and harmonic ostinato to help build tension, rising in pitch and tempo as we build to the climax. I tried a few different things at the end, including the final bars of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony – it was close, but not quite what I was trying for, so I utilised his instrumentation and voicing for the final chord, and adjusted it so that it fit thematically with what I had been building towards.

Posted on Leave a comment

Me! – Taylor Swift cover

Me! – by Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie – performed by two violins, piano, acoustic guitar, cajon, and tamborine. All instruments performed by Ben Clapton.

ME! was written by Taylor Swift and Bendon Urie (From Panic! at the Disco), released on April 26, 2019. This arrangement is for two violins, one taking Taylor’s part, and the other Brendon’s part. This gives both players the opportunity to shine. A Piano part accompanies, and a suggested cajon part, although this could easily be replaced by drums. 

ME! is a bubblegum pop song about embracing your individuality and owning it. It’s a tune that can get stuck in your head and makes people feel better about themselves.

Two violin and piano accompaniment. List price: US$10.00. Buy it at Sheet Music Plus.

Posted on Leave a comment

Rattlin’ Bog

I saw this song being sung by an Irish lass at the end of a wedding, and I thought to myself “I have to learn that song.” Watch to the end for some extra cuteness.

I have also arranged it for SATB. This is a fun little piece with a humorous twist at the end – feel free to play this up as you perform it. Everyone gets a chance to shine in this arrangement for Acapella SATB group – suitable for performance as a quartet or in a larger ensemble. 

SATB Arrangement. List price: $7.99. Buy at Sheet Music Plus.